BEIRUT: The Lebanese advertising industry is suffering from a deficit in talent because skilled people prefer to travel to GCC states where they receive bigger opportunities and more attractive packages, a prominent advertising figure said Wednesday.
“Lebanon used to be a reservoir of brains and talent that we would export with pride, especially in the communication and advertising industry, but the skilled people today are looking at the country as a challenging place on different fronts,” said Nada Abi Saleh, who was named managing director of Leo Burnett’s Beirut office in February.
These challenges, according to Abi Saleh, include the difficult financial and security situations in addition to the limited exposure of Lebanon to the rest of world. “Nowadays, talented people look at Dubai as the new world, the land of opportunity,” she told The Daily Star.
Abi Saleh does not consider advertising in Lebanon to be a low-income sector for people working in the field, but she admits that GCC countries are perceived as being financially more rewarding.
“We have motivating salaries in the advertising sector in Lebanon but yet if we compare ourselves to Dubai, Beirut is seen as less rewarding with limited opportunities to grow” she said.
Like all others sectors in the Lebanese economy, the advertising industry has not been spared the country’s security and political problems.
“The first factor affecting the industry is trust. So whenever you have an explosive situation, people tend to think mostly of their short-term priorities” Abi Saleh said.
“The industry is shrinking and it is not a surprise to anyone that the socioeconomic, political and security situation is very challenging and it is affecting the country as a whole and not just the advertising industry.”
Over and beyond the local situation, the advertising industry is also facing the challenge of coping with the digital world.
“Today we cannot talk about a digital revolution anymore because we are already living in the digital world and it is [no longer] a channel or a platform,” she said.
“It is affecting our daily lives in the way we think, we behave and live, so basically it can only have a positive outcome,” she added.
“Yet whenever you are going from an ‘era’ to another, there is always resistance to change and a transformational phase where you need to adapt and cope with this change,” she said.
According to a report published by ArabAd magazine, digital media is growing at the expense of traditional outlets.
“Digital is really starting to get its share from traditional media, and the decrease for traditional media is an increase for digital media,” it said, adding that the share of digital media has grown by 23 percent in 2013.
Despite the different challenges affecting the industry in Lebanon, Abi Saleh expressed her optimism in overcoming the current hard situation. “I can say that we, the Lebanese, are pretty resilient people and we have grown used to overcoming problems and keep going forward,” she said. “Nothing can stop me or stop Leo Burnett.”
For her, difficult situations constitute an incentive to be more innovative. “Things are not coming to us easily, but this doesn’t mean we need to quit,” Abi Saleh said, adding that sometimes a person is inspired by a difficult situation to become more creative and to come up with innovative strategies.
She said the main goal of Leo Burnett, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, was to provide assistance to its clients through different means in the current difficult situation.
The Leo Burnett Group specializes in advertising, digital, social media, content and innovation, sales promotion, direct marketing, event management and luxury branding.
“We may be able to help them in coming up with a business idea that won’t necessitate high communication budgets but that can help them grow their business,” Abi Saleh added.
“That’s how we become more proactive and our clients would respect us more and will view us as partners and communication consultants as opposed to skillful suppliers,” she said.